By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, MARCH 21, 2014 – USF football found out just how important the kicking game can be in 2013 and the Bulls are making sure they’re going to get even more from the positions moving forward.
Head coach Willie Taggart has said no starting job is set in stone as he looks for the Bulls to continue to “do something” this spring all the way through fall camp and each kicker fully understands he must step up on a daily basis.
“The reason why we’ve been successful in the past with Coach Taggart is that everything is competition,” special teams coordinator Stu Holt said Friday. “We’re going to play the best guy. The guy that produces is the guy that’s going to be on the field. We’ve got that mentality throughout our entire program.”
Placekicker Marvin Kloss returns for his senior year after becoming one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. The Cape Coral, Fla., native led the nation with 11 made field goals of 40 yards or more and four kicks from 50 yards or more, but that doesn’t mean he’s secured a starting job just yet for 2014.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, Marvin is talented, but at the same time he’s just like anybody else. He’s got to get back into the groove and get to where he’s comfortable again,” Holt said.
Kloss started spring ball with a tweaked back, which gave redshirt freshman Emilio Nadelman an opportunity to show what he can do in meaningful situations.
“Right now I couldn’t tell you who would start,” said punter Mattias Ciabatti, who also serves as the team’s holder on kicks.
Nadelman was coached by current USF running backs coach Telly Lockette at Miami Central High School and went on to become a two-time all-state selection and a three-time All-Dade County honoree.
“He’s a natural kicker, a soccer player growing up with raw power,” Ciabatti said.
Nadelman racked up 102 of his 307 career points at Miami Central during his senior year and earned Class 6A first-team all-state honors from The Associated Press. Coaches, and even Kloss, have been impressed with Nadelman’s ability to step up and connect this spring.
“It’s always good when you have a guy that’s really good you can compete with and kind of measure yourself with,” Kloss said. “It helps you improve and doesn’t allow you to get complacent and slack off or anything like that. It’s great being side-by-side; we feed off each other and help each other as much as we can. It’s a good relationship.”
USF has built up depth at a ton of positions since Taggart’s first year with the program, but punter is a spot where Ciabatti has to remain self-motivated with the lack of numbers behind him. Ciabatti, a junior from Tampa, has been known as a perfectionist since heading to USF and it’s been apparent by the extra time he’s spent in the film room trying to get better dating back to his freshman season.
“There’s always room for improvement. You can never be satisfied with your performance,” he said.
Ciabatti made a name for himself in his first season as USF’s primary punter in 2013, averaging 40.2 yards per kick with 20 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
“You saw him really improve as the season went on last year and really it was a direct reflection of how hard he works,” Holt said. “It’s very important to him; he’s a technician and pays attention to little things. We’re pleased with him.”
Dunkley Still USF’s Top Option at Punt Returner
Dunkley, a senior from Pahokee, Fla., gave the Bulls the boost they were looking for in 2013, when he averaged 24.2 yards while returning four punts for 97 yards with a long of 50 yards. Dunkley also led the Bulls with 406 kick return yards on 18 attempts for an average of 22.6 yards.
“With the way Chris Dunkley was returning the ball last year, particularly the last half of the year, it would be really hard for us to move away from him at this point,” Holt said.
Saturday’s Practice Open to the Public
Fans enjoyed their time at the Morsani Football Complex on Friday as they watched the team practice and they’ll have another opportunity 3 p.m. Saturday, when the Bulls’ open their scrimmage up to the public.
Fans can park in the lot on Sycamore Drive, located behind the Morsani Football Complex fields and Corbett Soccer Stadium on the east end of campus near 50th Street. Fans will be allowed access to the practice fields by attendants at the gate adjacent to the back of that parking lot and bleacher seating will be provided.